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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

Local Self government

Local Self government.

A Moment's consideration will show you that there can be no comparison between the settling of local rates and the settling of general rates; and yet both is the business of the borough. The one is its business by itself within its own boundaries; the other is its business with the rest of the boroughs in Parliament assembled. That general business was not more difficult than the local one when it was under-stood by all and determined by common consent; and while that business of the borough was maintained—and it was maintained during a long course of centuries—the business of England was managed with great success, maintained in extreme simplicity; contentions for the crown even did net lead to any change of principle or law; the victories gained upon our fields—our many and sanguinary battlefields—never enabled a class or a king, a doctrine or a principle, to prevail over the laws of England; the armies disbanded as page 40 soon as they were victorious—no loans ever contracted to maintain them—no debt incurred to disband them. And throughout these vicissitudes that fundamentol right of the constitution was maintained, which is in fact the constitution of England—That none should be bound to pay unless they gave their consent.

Such was the fruit of managing your own public affairs in the borough. I do not use the word "none" as applied individually but collectively. I mean by "none" no "commune" (a Norman term for "borough"—the "commons" means the "boroughs").

The doctrine of the connection of taxation and representation has been perverted by substituting the individual for the corporate body. This lies at the bottom of all that reforming mania which has corrupted instead of restoring the State, and debased instead of instructing the individuals who compose it.

None were bound to pay except those who had consented. That cannot be individually—it is absurd and impracticable; but how clear does the meaning and the law come out when applied to the communes; that is, the estates—the parts of the realm—the integers of which the kingdom was the multiple.

The boroughs could not be called upon to furnish aids to the crown unless they had themselves specifically consented; and to obtain this the king summoned their representatives to parliament. Those representatives went charged with the decision of the community. It was not pledges they gave upon abstract propositions; it was not pledges which were exacted to vote in this way or that upon some theoretical proposition.

The knights of the shire or the burgesses carried the verdict of the community upon some matter of fact; its decision upon some matter of business—a war, a treaty, or any other cause of expenditure, or its claim for redress of grievance. The last was the condition of the aid. It was so because they knew the remedy.

This was the business of the community then; and so long as they attended to that business, no theoretical discussion could arise, for the affairs of state were well managed.

(D. Urquhart, M.P. for Stafford 1848.)

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